[Editorial] Can Lee really weather the storm?

2023. 3. 22. 20:10
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In many respects, the majority party is not normal.

On Wednesday, the prosecution indicted Democratic Party Chair Lee Jae-myung on suspicions of breach of trust and bribery over the Wirye-dong and Daejang-dong redevelopment projects he orchestrated as Seongnam mayor in the 2010s. In the Daejang-dong case, Lee is suspected of inflicting 489.5 billion won ($374.4 million) in losses on the city by approving dubious benefits to private developers, who raked in 788.6 billion won in profit through the insider information leaked by the mayor. In the Wirye-dong case, Lee is suspected of allowing the private developers to take 21.2 billion won in profits unlawfully. Lee also faces the allegation that he provided favors to four companies based in the city in return for 13.35 billion won in donations for the city’s football club which he headed.

The latest indictment is the second one for Lee following an earlier one over his alleged violation of the election law. Lee attacked the prosecution for “political oppression” after “a series of searches and seizures and an arrest warrant” on him. The truth will be found through court trials.

Now, the question is whether Lee could really serve as head of the majority party holding 169 seats in the 300-member National Assembly. The party affairs committee chaired by Lee himself concluded that he does not have to resign because the prosecution’s investigation constitutes “a political revenge” according to Article 80 of the Party Constitution, which allows the committee to cancel the suspension of party officials from their posts if the prosecution’s probe is deemed “politically motivated.” In the past, the Party Constitution mandated a relatively neutral ethics committee in the party to determine whether an investigation is politically motivated. But the article was revised shortly before Lee took the helm of the party in last August. At that time, many wondered if such a revision aimed to protect Lee.

Chairman Lee is already being tried on charges of election law violation. He also faces suspicions over his alleged involvement in SBW Group’s sending money to North Korea and giving special favors in other redevelopment project.

Lee and his party impeached Interior Minister Lee Sang-min and suspended him from his post after holding him accountable for the Itaewon disaster. The pro-Lee faction in the party started to mention the possibility of their boss taking an “orderly retreat” from the chairmanship after the end of the year. The move clearly is linked to the need for Lee to exercise his nomination rights for candidates in the parliamentary elections next year for his own political future. In many respects, the majority party is not normal.

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